Since I joined Reading Phoenix Choir in September 2014, I’ve been fortunate to sing a wonderful variety of music, both in concert and in competition. We pride ourselves not only on learning all of our music from memory, but also in challenging ourselves to sing in different styles from across the last eight centuries of classical music. As we perform 12-15 concerts a year, once we’ve learnt a piece it tends to stay in repertoire for a year to eighteen months, so that we can fully explore it in different surroundings.
At the moment, our repertoire is anchored by the entirety of the Howells’ Requiem – a mesmerizing piece of early 20th Century British choral music, as haunting as it is beautiful. Most movements of the Requiem also allow us to showcase soloists from within our choir, something which is an option for entrants to the Walter Hussey Composition Competition.
The choir often explores early partsongs and madrigals – our conductor, Christopher Hann, introduced two pieces of 16th Century music by Spanish composers so that we could include them on our tour to Spain in April 2018. O Magnum Mysterium by Cristobal de Morales and Laudate Dominum Omnes Gentes by Tomas Luis de Victoria both allow us to show our strengths in singing in mixed and double choir mixed positions.
The choir is also currently singing several movements from Rachmaninov’s All-night Vigil, partially because we like to challenge ourselves to sing in different languages, but also because it’s just a beautiful piece of music. In the last few years other notable pieces the choir has performed include Ca The Yowes by Vaughan-Williams, Tavener’s The Lamb and My Spirit Sang All Day by Gerald Finzi – easily one of the most joyful pieces ever written for choir!
The second halves of our concerts tend to explore the 20th and 21st centuries, usually with a lighter tone. In addition to music by modern crunch-chord master Eric Whitacre (Lux Aurumque is currently in rep, and we have enjoyed singing The Seal Lullaby and Sleep in recent years), we have been inspired by the dexterity of arrangements of David Bowie’s Life on Mars and The Real Group’s Chili Con Carne.
For those of you that know the latter piece in particular, you’ll see we like to stretch ourselves with vocal percussion when the opportunity arises! Similar pieces that the choir have sung since I joined have included The King’s Singers’ arrangement of I’m A Train and Alexander L’Estrange’s arrangement of George Shearing’s timeless Lullaby of Birdland.
As you can see, the choir sings a wide variety of music, and we like a challenge! We believe that the Walter Hussey Composition Competition is the perfect way to celebrate our love of choral music, and we hope the winning piece will become part of our repertorial future!
Chris Riley, Chair